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Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2001 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Myths of the Month -- CLOSING in on two months after Sept. 11, anxiety is running high and fast. The anthrax campaign has had a fairly wide effect -- not in killing people but in scaring them, and thus undermining national resolve. We in the media have to a great degree returned to our accustomed role of hand-wringing and armchair-doubting and second-, third- and fourth-guessing.

There is much muttering and nattering of governmental inadequacy at home and abroad. A month ago the cry was that U.S. warplanes would inflict wanton devastation on the defenseless peasants of Afghanistan; now it is that U.S. warplanes are not wantonly devastating enough. The Northern Alliance rebels fail to advance on Kabul and issue querulous complaints against the U.S. strategy. The FBI warns of a new assault on America "within a week" but cannot say more than that. A senior Pentagon planner admits his surprise at finding the Taliban a stubborn foe. The nervous talk is of a war that may take years and require putting an army on the ground where the English and the Russians dug their graves.

This might be a good moment to take a breath and consider a few of the myths that surround us.

They all hate us. They do not. Some Muslims and some Arabs do hate us, but many more either like and respect us or don't really give much of a damn about us. Very, very few, in relative terms, hate us enough to do more than shout about it. Consider the numbers. There are an estimated 300 million Arabs in this world, living in 22 nations. There are slightly more than a billion Muslims. If all of these people really and truly and violently hated us -- if they hated us enough to really wage jihad -- we would have been forced out of the Arab world and the Islamic world a long time ago.

There are suicide bombers everywhere. There are not. With a billion Muslims, with an international network of radical Islamic schools (financed by our friends, the Saudis) dedicated to teaching generations of Muslims that it is a sacred duty to wage jihad against America and Israel, with the wealth and organizations of several states behind the terrorist groups, how many people can the terrorists actually persuade to kill themselves for the cause?

One of the most frightening aspects of Sept. 11 was what seemed to be the fact that 19 men had been willing to kill themselves for the reward of killing Americans. In the context of suicide bombers, 19 is a lot. It now appears, however, that at least a good number of those 19 were tricked to their deaths. An article this month in the British newspaper the Observer reported, based on Whitehall sources, that the FBI had concluded that 11 of the September terrorists did not know they were on a suicide mission but apparently had been told they were going to take part in conventional hijacking missions. Only the eight who actually piloted the planes knew the truth; the rest were preparing, it seems from the evidence, for a stay in jail, not paradise. An American intelligence source says the Observer's report is overstated -- the FBI has not "concluded" anything -- but is right in its essentials: "There are certainly people leaning in that direction . . . that some of them knew and some of them didn't seems to be increasingly possible."

We face a mighty and implacable foe . . . we are heading into the next Vietnam . . . history repeats itself. We face a foe that must fight the world's deadliest army with rifles and Stinger missiles, that is opposed by a credible (maybe) force already on the ground and that does not enjoy the wholehearted support of the Afghan people, who have by and large responded to the war with flight, not fight. We are not heading into the next Vietnam; the Vietnam War was a half-proxy war between great powers: There is only one great power in this conflict, and that is the United States. History repeats itself until it doesn't, which is frequently.

We are less than one month into a war without any real precedents. We may or may not be doing as well as we could be. But there is every indication that we are doing well enough, and things are going an awful lot better than they were one month after, say, the firing on Fort Sumter or the attack on Pearl Harbor. The beginnings of wars are often tentative and often disastrous. They are not conclusive; the ends of wars are conclusive. This war will end, and in a conclusive victory.

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